My Abortion #173: I’ll plan the rest of my life in the morning

Roar will publish a first-person story about abortion, “My Abortion: A Daily Story,” every day for at least 365 days.

I had my abortion in 1976, just three years after the Roe v. Wade decision. It gave me the chance to build a new life after leaving my physically abusive husband.

On the scheduled day, I took the New York City subway downtown, though I’d been told I would need to take a cab back. “Have a seat along the wall on your left,” the woman at the sign-in desk said. “We’ll call you when the in-take counselor is ready.”

I settled into my seat, along what I assumed was the “before” wall. Unlike me, the others in my row had someone sitting with them. A young woman whispered to a guy she sat with, and a teenager fingered through a magazine while a middle-aged woman waited next to her. I had told my best friend what I was doing, but when she offered to come with me, I told her no, I’d be fine. I could handle it. I was sure I was doing the right thing.

In the row of seats across from me, a young woman sat with her eyes closed and her head on a friend’s shoulder. I imagined that was the “after” wall. I willed myself to breathe.

Then I heard my name, jumped up, and followed an assistant into the in-take counselor’s office. I was surprised she was so young, but she smiled warmly as she motioned for me to sit across from her and asked if I wanted some water. Her first questions covered physical information. Last period? Spotting? Pain? Doctor’s name? But then her questions lead to other things. “Why do you want to terminate this pregnancy?”

The words tumbled out as I told her how I had just left my husband after living with him for over five years and putting up with his frightening anger and physical abuse. How I’d been working with a fertility specialist because I wanted to have children someday, and I wanted to find out why I couldn’t get pregnant. I laid out all my confused behavior in front of this young woman who looked directly into my eyes, glancing down only to take notes.

“I wanted to leave him for so long but it was so hard to do. He’d been brought up in a house with a lot of abuse. It was all he knew.” I hesitated; I was ashamed of how naïve or stupid this next thing would sound. “I never thought a few pills would work. I didn’t even take the full regimen. I didn’t want to be pregnant now. I only wanted to find out what’s wrong with me.”

I left nothing out as I talked. She listened and wrote and didn’t judge. I understand now that such a counselor might often hear young women reporting behavior like mine that goes against all common sense.

The next minutes now seem to occur in slow motion, as if I am watching a film. After the in-take session, she directs me to a dressing room where I take off my clothes and slip on a cotton gown. A nurse leads me to a room where the procedure is to be done. I climb onto the table and sit between the stirrups while she introduces me to the other nurse. The doctor swings the door open and walks in. He’s a tall, forty-something man, with curly dark hair and an Italian last name. The nurse helps me lie back on the table while the doctor looks at my chart. I’m hoping for immediate sedation or anything to dull my awareness of where I am and what’s happening, but no one budges. I try to rub some warmth into my hands.

After a minute the doctor stops reading and looks up at the nurse.

“I’m not going to do it,” he says as if it’s all one word. She looks at him grimly, waiting for an explanation.

“I can’t do it with this history,” he says, lifting my chart. “Fertility pills?”

I struggle to sit up. The nurse helps me.

“No, please,” I say to no one special. “I can’t have a baby now. I finally left. It was a really bad situation.”

He’s facing me now. “With what I’m reading here, you’ll have to meet with an on-staff social worker before I’d consider it.”

“Of course, of course, I’ll do that.”

The doctor nods good-bye to the others and shuts the door solidly.

I turn to the head nurse. “Can I get dressed now and see the social worker?”

“I’m so sorry,” she says. “No social workers are here on Friday afternoons. We can get you in to see her on Monday.” She rubs my arm. “I’m really sorry.”

I climbed down from the table, got dressed, walked back out into the waiting room and sat along the “before” wall for the fifteen minutes they’d requested. I slinked out the door and took the subway back to the apartment, now that didn’t need to call a cab.

On Monday morning, I got to my appointment with the social worker early. I checked in and began sorting through the magazines when I heard my name called. A tall woman in a business suit motioned for me to come with her, and we took seats across from each other at the desk in her office. I started talking right away, but she interrupted.

“Listen, I’ve read everything in your file,” she said. “Why don’t we just take you in for the procedure right now, and we can talk afterwards.” She walked beside me down the hall where a nurse guided me into a room, and twenty minutes later, it was over. I took a cab back to the apartment, and before the long night’s sleep that followed, I promised myself I would plan the rest of my life in the morning.

Betty Hafner is the author of the memoir Not Exactly Love (She Writes Press).


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